The Word Is… 📺 “Grease Live!” on Fox

Grease Liveuserpic=televisionLast night, I watched Fox’s attempt at doing a live musical, Grease Live!. I’m not going to attempt a full review with synopsis and notes on all the cast and crew. Rather, here are some jumbled observations on the show. I thought about dividing them into the good, bad, and ugly, but I couldn’t separate the bad from the ugly.

  • I don’t think the director knew what this show wanted to be when it grew up. At times, it seemed like a stage show and the theatrical production. At times, it seemed slavishly devoted to the movie version. At other times, it veered off into its own direction without explanation. In doing so, it didn’t quite satisfy the fans of the stage version, but also didn’t satisfy fans of the movie version. The failure, I believe, is one of managing of expectations. Promotion of the show before airing should have made clear the goal: a live version of the classic movie; a live version of the original stage show; a refreshed version of the movie; or something else. This would have greatly helped the audience who were either expecting a live version of the stage show (based on what NBC had done), or were expecting the movie.
  • I thought the performances were universally strong: the actors could sing and dance, and there were no significant gaffes. I think, for the leads, it showed off their talents well and may lead to more consideration for stage roles. The only exception was when the leads attempted to ape the performances of their movie equivalents too closely.
  • The interpretation of some of the songs made me wonder if the director understood the show at all. In particular, “Freddie My Love”, while performed flawlessly, made no sense as done. This was a song about a teen girl leading servicemen on, getting them to send her presents with no intent of having a real relationship. So incorporating it into a USO show was just … wrong, so wrong. Similarly, “These Magic Changes” … which a really a song about a fellow learning guitar, became this weird relationship song in the show. They completely cut the words to the “Mooning” number.
  • I can understand the desire to give Frenchie a song in the show, especially when you have cast a good singer. But the song you gave her was from the wrong period and didn’t fit the style of a show. Much better might have been an “I want” song earlier on, because this is a character who really doesn’t know what she wants.
  • I wasn’t sure about the opening. I did appreciate the singer and showing the extensiveness of the sets. But I think the show could have equally gone with the traditional stage opening (at a reunion of the class) and have had equal impact.
  • I found the interstitials with Mario Lopez interesting, and a great way to emphasize the live nature of the show.
  • I did, however, appreciate the closing. NBC has done away with the curtain calls, but I think for a live show you need them there. I would have superimposed the names of the actors and characters, however, as there wasn’t a program.
  • As you know, Saturday we saw A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. One person commented over on Facebook that they didn’t like the show because of its dated attitudes towards women. Although the script to this show attempted to do a little updating in that regard, the basic show Grease does demonstrate — and almost promote — a number of bad traits: expecting women to put out, belittling nerds, cultures of violence and hazing, and such. Some (such as I) can just put them into the historical context; however, it is something to think about when making the choice about what to highlight. I’m not sure whether Grease is even correctable, but it is a reflection of its times.
  • One area they did attempt to update the show is by making the school integrated. Given that this is a show in a particular historical context, I found it jarring — especially in that the integration they were showing for the time wouldn’t have happened back then. If you’re going to update race integration, you need to update the rest of the attitudes. I’ll note that other shows can bring in diversity without problem, because they are of an unspecified time and place, or are clearly imaginary. [Further, if you are going to integrate the cast, what does it say when all your leads are white. Look at the poster, folks.]
  • Despite the story problems, the technical craft was excellent, especially the quick changes such as between the slumber party and the USO show. This clearly demonstrated that complex productions can be done live; further, if you do them live, you’ll draw in the audience (especially when you do it against other new run shows). NBC, the gauntlet has been thrown.
  • For the most part, I appreciated the cameos, especially Didi Cohn and Eve Plumb. However, using Boyz II Men for Teen Angel was just wrong: they didn’t get the style right, and they made many of the words hard to hear.
  • They cleaned up quite a bit of language: not only did the pull the “pussy wagon” line from “Greased Lightening”, but the line about being an athletic supporter was gone, the Sal Mineo line was gone from Sandra Dee, and they pulled the Fangool!. This is Fox, folks. One expects a bit of raunch. You hear worse on the Simpsons.
  • Another odd change, seemingly for no reason: They moved where Sandy and Danny met to Salt Lake City, and changed Sandy’s name to Young from Dubrowski. Why? It destroyed the double entendre in “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee”, and had no fathomable reason other than to imply she was Mormon, and thus couldn’t drink, smoke, etc. It was unnecessary. Note that the movie did the name change as well, changing the name to Olsson. I also noticed they changed the year to 1959, for no reason other than to include the rocket jokes.
  • Kudos to Vanessa Hudgens for her great performance, especially considering that her dad passed away that morning.
  • They coped quite well with the unexpected SoCal rainstorm. Good thing they had those umbrellas handy.
  • While watching the show, I’ll admit I was mostly hate watching. C’mon, it was on Fox. But looking back, I don’t think it was as bad as all that: the performances were good, and the technical craft was excellent. For someone who knows Grease, the story changes were jarring; for much of the audience, they probably enjoyed it.
  • I haven’t decided yet on whether to get the cast album: I liked the new orchestrations and the vocal performances, although I didn’t like the new song for Frenchie or Boyz to Men. I also have at least 4 versions of Grease in my music library: the original Broadway cast, the revival with Rosie O’Donnell, the revival with Laura Osnes, and the movie soundtrack. Do I need a fifth? Then again, I have at least 6 versions of Gypsy: Merman, Lansbury, Midler, Daly, Peters, and LuPone.